Members of Dawn Agnew's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) showed their charitable side over Thanksgiving weekend by volunteering their time to a local charity.

What is unique about SADD, Agnew said, is that she lets the students pick and organize their own charitable actions. The president and vice president of the club chose St. Vincent de Paul this year.

The 12 Mountain Pointe students donated canned goods and spent three hours decorating the center, which feeds thousands of people every year. How much or how little the club volunteers its time varies from year to year, but this year has stood out as one of the most active, according to Agnew.

"The club is about promoting a positive community interaction," she said. "I really encourage them to give themselves because we are so fortunate ourselves."

In addition to their time on Thanksgiving, SADD will be adopting a family for Christmas this year.

It was not the first or the last volunteering done by the youth of Ahwatukee Foothills this year, and it's inspiring to see high school students participate in all aspects of charitable work - the picking of a charity, the planning, the set up and break down, and so on.

Looking back on my own high school years, I wish I would have done more. The experience of working with others toward a common goal, that isn't sports-related, is one that I think sticks with you for awhile.

When I talk to students at events like "Smiles for Christmas" (see the story in this issue), their excitement about helping is palpable. That event is a little different than volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul in that all kids remember how special it was to get toys on Christmas, so maybe that connection is more easily bridged.

Connecting directly with homeless people and families is also an eye-opening experience. Maybe it's a little different because adults, especially those who have gone through rough times, smile less than a kid with a new toy. But the high school students in this community are determined. They aren't easily defeated.

"This is a student led organization in that we let them do what they want to do," Agnew said. "I put it to the club: ‘Holidays are coming up, are we going to do anything for the community?' And the answer is almost always a ‘yes.'"

I think without question the epitome of charitable contributions by Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe students is Relay for Life, a combined effort between the schools that brought in $145,000 in 2011. The American Cancer Society recognized the Ahwatukee Foothills' Relay for Life for being the second largest youth-based high school Relay for Life in the country. The numbers speak for themselves.

Coming up are big events like Winter Wonderland, put on by the Kyrene School District to benefit its low-income families. Desert Vista musicians will be there to play for the annual event, which puts hundreds of toys under trees all around the East Valley.

It is apparent the students here "get it" when it comes to giving back.

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